Jem's Maturing in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird


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Jem's Maturing in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird

When children grow up, they face difficult problems, and. they learn to cope and take responsibility. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, is a flashback about two kids that spans over a few years. Jem ages from ten to thirteen over the course of the novel, and undergoes much change, as his sister describes him. Over the years, he is exposed to issues adults face, and eventually shows an understanding of racism and innocence. As Jem grows up, his view on courage also changes. Jem follows his father's footsteps, and gets much of his knowledge from him.
Jem's definition of bravery changes as he grows up; he gains insight and experience of the world around him. At the beginning of the story, Jem only thought of bravery as touching the side of the Radley house, only because "in all his life, [he] had never declined a dare. (pg 13)" However, as the story continues, Jem learns about courage from several events. Upon hearing about a trial where a black person's been prosecuted, Atticus decides, as a lawyer, to defend that person. Atticus chose to defend Tom Robinson, an African American, because it's the right thing to do, and no one else wanted to ,or had the bravery to. "Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win, (pg 76)" he said to Scout and Jem when Scout asked. Atticus was courageous for doing something just, even though it's not encouraged. Jem also learns a different kind of courage after learning about Mrs. Dubose's fight with a morphine addiction. Jem and Scout disliked Mrs. Dubose because she was quite a mean person. Later, they were glad they didn't have to read to her anymore. Atticus told Jem that Mrs. Dubose simply had her own views on things, and that her fits were from her addiction. Atticus made Jem read to her and explained, "I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway… According to [Mrs. Dubose's] views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew. (pg 112)" This is similar to Atticus's choice to defend Tom.

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Mrs. Dubose knew she wouldn't live, but she fought the addiction anyway. These events changed the way Jem thought of courage, more than just touching the side of the Radley house.
Throughout the book, Jem also learns about the nature of people and evil. For a while, Jem and Scout have been finding gifts in the knothole of a tree, and they decide to write a thank-you note and leave it in the tree. On the day he and Scout choose to leave the note, he finds out, however, that someone had plugged the knothole with cement. The tree was still alive and healthy. "[Jem] stood there until nightfall and I waited for him," Says Scout. "When we went in the house, I saw he had been crying; his face was dirty in the right places, but I thought it odd that I had not heard him. (pg 63)" Jem realizes that Boo Radley had been sending the gifts; Jem understands Nathan Radley cemented the tree to keep Boo shut up in the house, and now knows how cruel people can be. Also, after the jury decided Tom was guilty despite no evidence of the occurrence, Jem once again cries, angry at the justice system. "It was Jem's turn to cry. His face was streaked with angry tears as we made our way through the cheerful crowd. ‘It ain't right,' he muttered… ‘It ain't right, Atticus,' said Jem. ‘No son, it's not right' (pg 212)" Jem is unable to accept the jury's conviction because it was unjust. The jury, ignoring any evidence (or lack of evidence) shown, votes not to take the word of a black man over the word of a white man and declares Tom guilty and thoroughly upsets Jem. Jem realizes how unkind and prejudiced people can be.
Lastly, as Jem matures, he follows his father's footsteps and acts maturely even though his peers might look down on him. Eventually, Jem understands the concept of mockingbirds and the harmless mockingbirds in life. " ‘You oughta let your mother know where you are,' said Jem. ‘You oughta let her know you're here. . . .' Dill's eye's flickered at Jem, and Jem looked at the floor. Then he rose and broke the remaining code of [the kids'] childhood. He went out of the room and down the hall. ‘Atticus,' his voice was distant, ‘can you come here a minute, sir?' (pg 141)" Jem, instead of keeping Dill's runaway a secret, tells Atticus. Jem was trying to do the right thing, even though he was somewhat reluctant and knew Dill and Scout might despise him for it. Jem also gains an understanding of the mockingbirds in the story. He shows it one day when he and Scout were in their room and Scout notices a roly-poly. Scout toys with it for a little while, then tries to squish it, when Jem stops her. " ‘Why couldn't I mash him?' [Scout] asked. ‘Because they don't bother you,' Jem answered in the darkness. He had turned out the reading light. (pg 238)" Jem stops Scout because he knows the roly-poly didn't hurt her. It's weaker than her, and squashing it would be like killing a mockingbird, a harmless creature. These two passages prove that Jem's trying to act responsible and reasonable like Atticus.
As Jem aged, he learned about cruelty, racism and prejudice. He gained knowledge about responsibility and respect he learned from his father. Jem's growth indicates how children mature and discover problems they have to face. Even though the issues differ a little from 1930 to now, kids today still cope with problems when they're around Jem's age.


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